Many distilleries make fantastic whisky, but a few succeed in making it better than others. As always there is not right or wrong when it comes to personal taste, but quality, accuracy and conditions separate distilleries from each other. There’s a lot of crucial elements that make High Coast distillery unique, here a are few important features.
The Northern Climate
We gladly admit that we are at the absolute outskirts of the whisky world. Far from the motorways and far from the world’s whisky stores, but we are where we are because we know what the nature up here provides to us. It is not the northern nature in itself that makes our whisky special – even if the forests, expanses and the high clean air certainly do their part. We do not believe that there is any distillery in the world that has such large temperature variations in its warehouses as the High Coast Distillery.
The temperature variations between summer and winter and between day and night are dramatic in Norrland. A cold winter can take the temperature to 30 degrees below zero and hot summer days it can be almost 70 degrees warmer. Whisky that matures in the large, unheated warehouses is exposed to the enormous forces of nature. During hot days, the pressure in the barrels increase, the whisky expands and penetrates deeper into the oak. Deep inside the barrel, the oak’s flavours are released, which come out when the temperature and pressure drop again. The temperature changes are ongoing, day and night. They accelerate parts of the maturation process and contribute to a unique flavor development.
Ångerman rivers cold water
The mighty Ångerman river flows rapidly past the distillery. For thousands of years, the river has been the lifeblood of the people along Ådalen. Every second, almost 500,000 liters of ice-cold mountain water pass outside the distillery windows. Cold water in large quantities is a huge natural resource for anyone who manufactures whisky: The ability to cool the process is extremely important in the pursuit of a characteristic distillate. An ice-cold cooling water means that we can condense the spirits efficiently, resulting in a distillate with character and pure fine flavors. Cold water in large quantities is in short supply for many distilleries. With us there is the world’s coldest cooling water in unlimited quantities. In the Ångerman river, the water temperature is only a few degrees above the zero point for much of the year, and during the summer months it is only the most hardy ones who dare to swim.
The pure process water from Bålsjön
In order for it to be right in the end, one must do right from the beginning. Therefore, we are very careful about the choice of raw materials. Grains, yeast and water of the highest quality – these are the only ingredients allowed when making malt whisky. We choose raw materials that give us the conditions to create the taste profile we want. We take our water from Bålsjön. A spring lake northeast of Kramfors which is known for its good, clean and unusually soft water. Before we use the water in our process, it is filtered through sand and carbon filters.
Malt of the highest quality
Mash with inspiration from Japan
We find our role models in different parts of the world. We have taken inspiration from Islay whisky and our stills are quite similar to Kilchomans in both shape and size. We are also very fond of Japanese whisky. Like many Japanese distilleries, we use a clear wort which deliver more fruity flavours. Therefore, we are very thorough in the mashing process. We recirculate the first part of the wort that has not been filtered through the malt bed, we add it to the top and allow shell residues and other things time to separate. It gives a clear fine wort. On the third and mash, we use water with a slightly lower temperature than usual to avoid bitter flavours that can otherwise be drawn out of the shell parts of the grist. A clear wart is rather unusual outside of Japan, and in large, more industrial distilleries you rarely have time to wait.
Yeast and time
Because we want to develop a whisky with great fruitiness, we use a French distillery yeast that gives a mash filled with fruity esters, aldehydes and ketones. Our fermentation times are unusually long, in average 82.5 hours, which is a piece of puzzle that builds our taste profile. When the yeast has made its way, we let the wort sit for an extra day. Then a process begins where lactic acid bacteria produces different flavours, such as citrus and lime. This does take a bit longer, but the long fermention time gives you deliciously healthy and round flavours found in our whisky.
The meticulous distillation
Distillation is the part of the craft where the Stillman really controls the character of the distillate. On the High Coast we aim for a fruity raw spirit and since the flavours come early in the process, we make our first cut early, after 13 minutes, for our unspoiled distillate. The second cut at 67% probably occurs earlier than at any other distillery and prevents heavier substances from coming to the whisky. The smoked distillate, however, we increase the timings to access the phenols that provide the smokier notes. Here we cut after 30 minutes and 60% respectively. The result is less fruitiness and more beautiful tones of tobacco, liquorice and smoke.
Our particular way of making whisky takes a little more time than usual. But here in Ådalen we try to do things thoroughly instead of fast. We usually call it a northerly tempo – and it is completely unique in the whisky world.
Maturation on natures terms
Regardless of how careful you are in the process, maturation is still the major factor when it comes to flavours. In our case, it is largely about the nature of northern Sweden and the climate. Our warehouses are completely unheated and follow nature’s changes, cold winters and hot summers create high activity in the barrels.
Good casks and the right time can create a good whisky of an inferior distillate. A bad barrel can destroy a fantastic distillate. But only a delicious distillate can create magic with really good casks. That’s what we strive for. We buy the best casks we can come across and we also work with one of the world’s most knowledgeable and best coopers, Johan Thorslund from Thorslund’s Kagge. We mature in many types of barrels and have a penchant for experimenting with different species of oak. From Asian Quercus Mongolica to the Swedish oak. We also largely use what we call virgin oak, which are oak barrels that are completely unused. We do not believe in using barrels time and time again, which is common nowadays. We think that small fresh 40-liter casks will reach its peak during the second round of maturation, while far from all large barrels will be used more than once.
Regardless of how careful you are in the process and what conditions nature and the warehouse offer, the quality of a distillery lies in the hands of those who create the whisky. The blenders who have the opportunity to see their warehouses as a symphony orchestra where small nuances are collected from a variety of barrels. A beat too much can ruin a whole tune, a perfect battle chord can create a masterpiece. The balance is finite and requires high olfactory senses or ‘a good nose’ to identify the ‘right’ casks. Blending is a process that takes a lot of time and should take a lot of time. We dare to say that the High Coast Distillery has blenders of the highest caliber class and their work is defined in what you as a consumer encounter in your glass.